Not many cities can boast two cathedrals in the UK and when they do, they don’t get more impressive than Liverpool. Liverpool, a relatively young city compared to those with Medieval origins, grew rich on trade and shipping but had no cathedral until the 20th century. Liverpool has a diverse population that includes a large community descended from Irish immigrants. The influx of Irish brought with it a religion that in England had largely been pushed to the margins – Catholicism. Catholics and Anglican Protestants made uncomfortable bedfellows and rivals, which included their wish for grand cathedrals.
The Anglicans had a bishop in Liverpool since 1880, and he used a parish church as his pro-cathedral and the first idea for the cathedral in 1885 was abandoned. In 1901 a competition was held to choose a new architect.
The Anglican cathedral was begun in 1904 and the very traditional cross shaped church was designed by the winner Giles Scott, who designed the red telephone box and Battersea power station. Solid stuff. And probably that’s why the cathedral looks chunky and big. Very big. The tower houses the tallest and heaviest ringing peal of bells (66m) and the largest bell, Great George, weighs in at 14 tonnes. It took time to complete, as WW2 interrupted its progress. Finally, the cathedral was consecrated in 1978 by the Queen.
In 2007 the cathedral regained the title of the largest pipe organ from the Royal Albert Hall – 10,268 pipes!
A big cathedral in many ways and it dominates the skyline, but not alone.
The Catholic diocese wanted to outdo the Anglicans and commissioned Sir Edward Lutyen to design a cathedral. Lutyen choose a vast domed construct in contrast to Scott’s neo-Gothic design. It was going to be the second largest church in the world and the largest dome (bigger than St Peter’s Basilica in Rome). You can see the scale of it in this print.
However, after the crypt was started in 1933, nothing further was achieved. The costs spiralled out of control and the funds weren’t there. Lutyen’s design was binned in 1960 and a new design chosen by yet another competition. Work began again in 1962, the structure cast from portland cement rather than stone, and consecrated five years later. The lantern cathedral is loved, and hated. Its altar sits in the middle of the circle and colourful stained glass windows shower light around it – more stained glass than any other in Europe. Affectionately it is known as Paddy’s Wigwam. Side by side, two great cathedrals, just one street apart.
I can’t pass over another great ‘L’ – Lincoln cathedral. Lincoln is old and beautiful to behold. It too sits on top of a hill and dominates the skyline. Commissioned by William I it was started in 1072 and from then on suffered a string of disasters. Destroyed by fire in 1141, it was rebuilt. It then collapsed after an earthquake in 1185, and rebuilt with a third cathedral topped with three spires. The tallest at 160m collapsed in a hurricane in 1549. The others were removed for safety reasons. It was also built from the outside walls in, so that it’s not quite symmetrical. Does it matter? No, because it’s still an amazing achievement in stone masonry and Medieval construction with its ribbed vaulting, flying buttresses and pointed arches.